Marmont, Vegemont

I saw Sophia Copolla’s new film “Somewhere”, about a slightly-past-his-peak film star who slowly reconnects with his 11-year-old daughter. (It’s pretty good – you should see it.)

Anyway, I saw it at the Penthouse in Brooklyn, with a wrinkly daytime audience. A couple of ladies in the audience seemed a bit bored by it and spent a lot of the time whispering to each other about the film.

The actor (played by Stephen Dorff) lives in the Chateau Marmont, and at one point in the film he’s slumped in his room, rather depressed. And one of the ladies loudly whispered, “It’s obvious he’s going to kill himself. They’re setting it up nicely – that hotel, that’s known as the place where stars go to commit suicide.”

Which makes it sound like the Chateau is a Hollywood elephant graveyard, where those who are being eaten alive by tinseltown can go to curl up and die.

But there have been no suicides at the Marmont. John Belushi accidentally overdosed and Helmut Newton crashed his car after a suspected heart attack, but no grand royale suicides.

And Stephen Dorff’s character didn’t kill himself in the hotel. Sophia Copolla is far too clever to be that obvious.

Yo, Nightliners

Nightline – 20th Birthday Special
One of my strongest memories of the seventh form is being tired in class. The sort of tiredness that can be relieved by a walk around the block or, well, an interesting school lesson.

I was always tired because I used to stay up late (11pm!) watching Nightline, TV3’s late news. Back then it was hosted by the power duo of Joanna Paul and Belinda Todd. Belinda was utterly fierce and managed to offend people all the time.

I mean, there are the infamous moments of offence – the Russell Rooster pash, the “69 positions in 60 seconds” clip – but she also managed to offend a viewer by taking an elaborately carved watermelon and biffing it over her shoulder. Because, um, that’s disrespectful to the watermelon carver.

I also loved the digs Nightline took at “state television”. One time Belinda and Joanna donned dark bob wigs, the then universal TV One lady newsreader do. And TV One was running a feel-good promo featuring a shaggy dog and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”. Nightline did their own version – one of those yappy dog toys, set on fire, and with Primus’ stonking tune “Too Many Puppies” as the soundtrack.

The golden days of Nightline have come and gone. Television in New Zealand is a very strange place at the moment, and it will be very interesting to see what the state of things will be in the next decade.

But those late nights, the sleep deprivation, the half-arsed seventh form wasn’t for nothing.

Watch the Nightline 20th anniversary special.

Part 10: The case of the exploding bear

There comes a time in the life of any New Zealander from the generation known as “X”, when one must look back and wonder what happened to the Play School toys.

Big Ted, Manu and Humpty now live at Te Papa, the sign at the Otago Settlers Museum says. The bear, the wahine and the curious round gent are most likely enjoying life in the lush, climate-controlled national museum. “Aw yee-yah,” Big Ted no doubt exclaims to Buzzy Bee. “We had a TV show. We were all famous ‘n’ shit. It was platinum, baby. VIP.”

Jemima, the sign also notes, is awol. Is it true that she went to Sydney in the late-80s in order to further her career in television, only to find life in a new country harder than she expected? And is it true there’s crazy old junkie lady staggering around Kings Cross, with dyed ginger hair, muttering to herself about something called “the round window”?

Little Ted, however, can be found at the Otago Settlers Museum. But paying a visit to him will not result in a warm fuzzy wash of Generation X nostalgia, suitable for turning into a Mr Vintage T-shirt design.

This is because Little Ted ain’t got no head. He was ritually decapitated on the last day of filming in Dunedin. “Nya ha ha!” the production crew no doubt evilly cackled as the explosives were detonated, resulting in a cascade of yellow fur and kapok. “Who’s the pretty boy TV star now, eh?”

While the headless corpse of Little Ted is on display at the Otago Settlers Museum, it’s certainly not in a prominent spot. Ted lurks down a dark alcove, well away from the more glamorous parts of the museum. If you want to visit him, you have to seek him out, past the exhibited bucket of KFC, through the eerie hall of portraits of Dunedin’s settlers, and down a narrow corridor that was possibly a route to a fire exit in a former life. Or perhaps you’ll just stumble across him and find yourself a little shocked to see his remains.

Little Ted is a reminder of what can happen to those who are drawn into the appealing world of showbiz. One day you can be starring in a daily television programme; the next you’ve had your head blown up (for a laugh!) by your (former) colleagues.

It’s a cruel world.

Little Ted ain't got no head

A fest of films

I’ve always had this awkward relationship with the NZ International Film Festival. Sometimes I throw myself right into it, other times I ignore it entirely. In recent years, I’ve found myself overwhelmed by the choice offered in the programme, and cautious of leaping into see some film only for it to come out on general release the next week.

I’d more or less ignored it for the last few years, but this year, with my realisation that I’m still totally nuts about film, I decided to give the film fest a go.

But this year I based my film-going around two basic rules:

  • No planning ahead. All films are to be decided upon on the day and no tickets bought in advance.
  • No films that are due to come out on general release in the near future.

So I took it day by day and this is what I saw:

Best Worst Movie
Best Worst Movie is a documentary about a film that tried to be a good film but ended up a bad film which in turn made it a good film. The film in question is 1990 horror film “Troll 2” (which has nothing to do with the original “Troll”). After languishing in home video obscurity, the film slowly gained a cult following, and the doco (made by “Troll 2″‘s child star) takes a look at the cast reluctantly revisiting the most embarrassing role on their IMDB profile. It was a little slow in places, but ended up being a joyful, kind-hearted look at films and fans.

The Camera on the Shore
This documentary by Graeme Tuckett looks at the work of New Zealand film-maker Barry Barclay. The only film of his I’d seen before was “Feathers of Peace”, but, as the doco shows, he had a significant career in both film and television work. Sadly, Barclay died during the making of the documentary, but the film includes footage from his tangi, including his friends telling stories about him. The doco’s style just lets the story of Barclay’s life unfold quite organically, without a power narrative pushing things along. The result it a really lovely, moving film about a great New Zealand film-maker.

Tangata Whenua 1
The film festival also included a retrospective of some of Baz’s films. “Tangata Whenua” was a television series from 1974, written and presented by Michael King. The Barclay-directed crew travelled to various parts of New Zealand and let groups of Maori tell their stories. The two episode in this series looked at kuia with moko (there were only 30 left at the time) and the Waikato. It was remarkable seeing footage of the Raglan golf course, with men in walk shorts and knee socks, while the old kuia talked about the great whare nui that once stood there.

Humpday
This was a very talky film, about two old university friends who suddenly become reunited as adults and decide to make a gay porn film together. No, really. The script was clever and focused on the relationship of the two men and the wife of one. The awkwardness and bravado of the conversations got a lot of laughs, though I heard that a daytime session of the same film screened to an almost silent audience. Really, the film isn’t about porn or sexuality, but more about male friendships – and not many films do that well.

Moon
The Tuesday night session (during the 40th anniversary of the first man on the moon!) was sold out, but I got a sweet seat anyway. “Moon” is directed by Duncan Jones (son of some famous guy who wrote some songs about space) and stars Sam Rockwell (who is my boyfriend). Moon exists in a sort of Kubrickian universe, as if the moon of “2001” had been further explored, mined, and just left to get a bit crappy. The story centres around a man who works on the moon, and his discovery of, ooh, another version of himself. What’s going on, and what does Gerty the computer know? “Moon” is a really enjoyable, tense sci-fi.

Every Little Step
This documentary follows the casting process of the 2006 revival of “A Chorus Line”, with the idea of contrasting the ambitious contemporary actors with their fictional counterparts from the musical, as well as interviews with the team behind the original musical. Now, I’ve only seen “A Chorus Line” once so I was really surprised at how moving I found “Every Little Step”. But when you take what is quite an emotional musical and couple it with people are going through similar experiences to the characters, and then consider how rare it is for actor/singer/dancers to get good work, then you can see where the drama comes from.

It Might Get Loud
The Embassy was full of rock geeks – people who I imagine read Q magazine. This documentary was all about rock guitar, told through interviews with Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White. Mr Page and Mr Edge seem to have reached a comfortable place in their lives, whereas Mr White is still in a very self-conscious place and seems to want most to be an old black bluesman. The three are brought together for a “summit” – talking about guitars ‘n’ shit while seated on old brown couches – and a great highlight of that is seeing the look of glee on The Edge and Jack White’s faces as Jimmy Page rips into “A Whole Lotta Love”.

All Tomorrow’s Parties
Yeah, let’s finish with some more music nerdary. This documentary looks at the 10 years of the All Tomorrow’s Parties music festival, where indie bands play at British holiday camps. Most of the footage seemed to have been gathered together from bits and pieces incidentally filmed over the years, and much of the film’s appeal comes from the clever editing. All the film really concludes is that a bunch of bands have played at various ATPs over the years and most people there had a good time. But isn’t that all you really want in a festival?

Horseboy revisited

Regular readers may remember my post about when, in 1995, I emailed TV2’s late-night news programme Newsnight with a poem about Horseboy, the show’s mascot hobby horse. Marcus Lush read it out on air, making it one of the first viewer emails to be shown on New Zealand television. Or something like that.

Well, recently I had a chance to view that episode. It was pretty much how I remembered it (I’m sure I had video-recorded it and watched it a few times back in the day), and now I’ve taken a few screen shots and added it to the post.

Actually, let’s just pause for some lolz. Here’s a screen shot from that same episode of the Absolut CHOGM map – when Newsnight realised that route of the motorcade security loop in Auckland for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting looked like a wonky Absolut vodka bottle:

absolutechogm

But anyway, watching that old episode of Newsnight – and a few others from late 1995 – it was really interesting to see how they treated that crazy new “internet” thing.

In another episode, Newsnight looked at Auckland art dealers Fox Gallery who had built a website to showcase their art. The interview was filmed at the physical gallery and much of the footage was of actual art on the walls, not online. (Though there were a few crappy shots of the gallery’s website, shown on crusty old Netscape.)

At the end of the story, the URL was shown on screen for interested parties to jot down. It was – steady yourself – http://www.ecentral.co.nz/fox.gallery/fox.welcome.html

Srsly. Remember when URLs used to be like that?

I just googled Fox Gallery to see if it still existed. It doesn’t seem to, but the search results brought up heaps of other Auckland galleries. These days it’s completely unremarkable for a gallery to have a website.

Now, when Fox’s 54-character URL was up on screen, Marcus Lush realised the graphic would actually need to stay up there for a while to give people a decent chance to write it down. So he ad-libbed, saying, “They say the trouble with the internet is that no one’s ever found a use for it. There’s nothing to do.”

And, yeah, that’s almost what it was like back then. There was no Trade Me, no Facebook, no Google. I’d only been online for a few months and while I was thrilled by the obvious potential of the internet, my first website will still about 8 months away and I was still trying to figure out what to do with the internet.

So now maybe the general internet has got to the stage where it’s a bit ordinary and boring; and now if you buy a handbag on Trade Me or watch an old Flaming Lips video on YouTube, people don’t think you’re a “computer whizz” and expect you to be able to fix their PC.

Though there are still corners of the internet that haven’t wiggled into the mainstream yet. For example, as ubiquitous as Twitter may seem, it’s still really hard to explain it to people who haven’t used it; who don’t get why you’d use it, just as 15 years ago they wouldn’t have understood why an art gallery would have a webpage.

But eventually they figure it out.

Current Obsessions

UK Celebrity Big Brother

Regular readers will know of my weakness for the televisual delights of Brother who is Big. Currently screening on Channel 4 in the UK is series six of Celebrity Big Brother, but those of us who don’t live in the UK can stay up-to-date with it via the medium of YouTube.

The series only runs for a manageable three weeks, so every day I delight in the everyday goings-on of the house filled with such people as LaToya Jackson, Coolio and Mutya From Sugababes.

I can’t quite explain the appeal of it, but I suspect it’s the fact that what happens to the house of celebrities is exactly the same as what happens to the house of wannabes in the regular version of BB: after a few days everyone get tired and emotional and starts yelling at each other, little groups form and there’s always some guy who tries to hook up with all the women. Of course, it’s just that extra bit entertaining when the sleazy guy is the performer of “Gangsta’s Paradise”.

The Twilight Zone

I acquired the season four DVD of the original Twilight Zone series, from 1963, and after watching that, moved on to series one.

I like the science fiction/fantasy stories, and it’s interesting to see the obvious reaction to World War II and the scary new world of technology. But what interested me the most was the style of television back in those days.

The acting is kind of stiff and very formal and almost feels melodramatic, which I believe is what was considered good acting back then. People spoke with very clipped, precise language. The only contemporary thing I can think of comparing it to is the scripts of David Mamet, but without all the swearing.

There’s a very slow pace to the way stories are told. I’m all for establishing character, letting tension build up, but there just seem to be so many unnecessary shots of people doing nothing that advances the plot. I started to make mental edit notes of how I’d cut things down. (This reminds me of the chapter about television in “Everything Bad Is Good For You, about how plots of modern television programmes are much more sophisticated compared to the TV of old).

Smoking is all over the Twilight Zone, in a way that makes the smoking in Mad Men look positively moderate. Even Rod Serling can sometimes be seen holding a fag, with smoking curling around him as he delivers his end monologue.

And the one thing that’s always stood out for me in both film and television from this era is the kissing: pashing is forbidden! As well as the Hays Code for film, it appears that television also couldn’t show open-mouth kissing. So if a couple need to do a passionate kiss, they sort of violently press their lips together, creating many double chins. It’s entirely unsexy and seems more painful than passionate.

mashpash
Walking down the street

As a sort of New Year’s resolution, I’m vowing to walk more. Previously I’d catch a bus down to the train station every morning, but now I’m making the effort and walking.

But it’s not exactly as if it is an effort. I’ve always liked walking. It might have to do with having grown up in a rural area with no footpaths, there was nowhere to walk. I used to dream of living in a place with footpaths that I could blissfully stroll along in sneakers, not trudging along in gumboots.

In fact, even when I’m not walking to work, I rather like just going for a walk around wherever. I don’t want to evoke the F word, but for me there’s a real pleasure in walking around a city. There’s so much detail and history and humanity that can be experienced just by the simple act of walking down the street.

F:Rad = teh win

Well, it’s about time. Fractured Radius, my (old?) team in the 48Hours film competition have just tonight won the Auckland finals with their serious short “The End”.

I was sad that I couldn’t be part of F:Rad 2008, but apparently I am credited as an excellence consultant, which would probably be the “Hey, you can do serious! Go for it!” phone call with the director on the Friday night of competition weekend.

I’m really happy for Dylan, Andy and James – who’ve been the core of Fracture Radius right from the first year in 2003, when they made the appallingly bad “F.I.T” – and for the rest of the team, both amateurs and professionals, who no doubt worked hard and had much fun on 48Hours weekend.

But now my loyalties are torn! “The End” will be in the national finals, but then so will the Wellington winner, Smashing Pants’ “Darlene”, which I also have tons of cinematic love for. Ugh – does this mean I’ll have to support the Gisborne winner instead?

Murder, she watched

Someone had taken out most of season one of “Twin Peaks” at my local video shop, so I was browsing the shelves looking for something else to watch. And I saw her. Sweet Jessica Fletcher, staring benevolently yet determinedly from the cover of “Murder, She Wrote”.

It used to be one of my favourite TV shows when I was a girl cos I liked the murder-mystery element. I particularly liked an episode from season one, where an amusement park owner is killed in a locked-room murder.

So that was the first episode I watched on DVD. But rather than being the awesome locked-room mystery I remembered, it was kind of cheesy and lame. The crux of the locked room set-up was some stupid voicemail hacking.

It was this lame:

msw-lolfone

But this opened a new level of appreciation for “Murder, She Wrote”, and I soon found myself mesmerised by things I’d never previously considered, like the set dressing. Whoever did it – IMDB suggests it was several people – had a thing for covering walls with an eclectic selection of paintings and using pot plants galore.

Take this living room, for example:

msw-detective

To the left, you can see the eclectic paintings, positioned to cover the whole wall. And all around are masses of pot plants. It looks like the stereotypical apartment of a single girl in the big city but it is actually the abode of a hard-boiled police detective. (Jessica is walking over to pet his cat on that chair. His cat!)

Here’s another room from another episode:

msw-horses

As well as the eclectic paintings and the jungle of pot plants, this scene also goes one better with the horse sculpture and an artfully placed Lynn Redgrave on the sofa.

Actually, celebrity spotting is another fun part of watching “Murder, She Wrote”.

Here’s Kenickie getting arrested for murder, dressed as a lady:

msw-kenickie

😀

Don’t worry – he didn’t do it. He was falsely accused, but his fiancee stuck by him and pashed him to prove to viewers he wasn’t a gay, but sadly was unable to prove that he wasn’t a total douchebag. (The real murderer was Kotter.)

And who’s this cute li’l scamp?

msw-joaquin

Why, it’s none other than Oscar-nominated serious actor Joaquin Phoenix, here playing Jessica’s great-nephew Billy.

But what kept me going as I revisited all those DVDs were the mysteries at the core of every episode. Some of them are far-fetched, others are too easy to guess, but others were quite ingenious and made up for that lame voicemail hack.

So, I think it’ll be a while now before I get around to watching Twin Peaks.

Things I did on the weekend

ITEM: I went to the Cross Street Carnival on Saturday. The street was closed off and filled up with Craftwerk regulars, including Annette of Nut & Bee, and City the NZ Cupcake Queen. Even the local brothel was part of it. The K Road area has been in need of a carnival, but with K Road itself being a major city road and having the motorway so close and steep streets either side, it’s been lacking a good location for such an event. Cross Street is ideal. I hope it becomes an annual event.

ITEM: So, you know that Flight of the Conchords television programme? Well, I’d never got around to watching it when it was on TV. I felt like the only person in the country who didn’t watch it. I mean, I think even my mum knew what “It’s business time” meant. So now that it was finally out on DVD I bought it and watched it all over two days. It was good, and it didn’t wear thin. Go Kiwi, LOTR, etc.

ITEM: On Sunday I got the ferry over to Devonport, forgetting it was the weekend of the food and wine festival. They make an effort with the admission price to discourage people from getting pissed, but there was still a bit of staggering going on down Victoria Road. And then the added bonus of having Hello Sailor’s live performance in the park echoing around the streets. The New World car park took on a whole different feeling with slices of “Blue Lady” drifting around it.

ITEM: You know what’s cool and new? It’s the Aucklandista blog. It’s a sister site of the Wellingtonista, founded by Auckland-lover Jo Hubris, and hasa growing list of contributors. It’s all about the various aspects of what makes Auckland rather awesome. It’s early days, but it’s slowly finding its own Aucklandic take on things.

ITEM: Ok, let’s have a look at some photos from the Cross Street Carnival. (See how even the Mercury Lane car park looks festive?)

Where to go

Death Farm Film Revisited

A few years ago I wrote about a disturbing farm safety film I’d watched when I was at school.

At the time my memory was little hazy, but I remembered it being a really sinister and gruesome story of a group of children who visit a farm, and one by one, they all die.

Well, I finally tracked down the film in question. It’s called “Apaches” and Wikipedia describes it as “one of the most notorious public information films of all time.”

It’s a British film and dates from 1977 and appears to have been shown extensively in British schools throughout the ’70s and ’80s, leading to a whole generation of grown-ups who were traumatised by it.

It’s available in its entirety on YouTube, but I feel like I should advise viewer discretion: children get killed, and horribly. When the little girl wakes up in the night after having swallowed poison earlier in the day, man, I don’t ever want to hear that scream again.

I still can’t believe that a) this was shown to me when I was about six years old, and b) they thought it would be relevant to New Zealand children living in what was essentially a rural suburb of Hamilton.

So, as a pre-Halloween treat, here is Apaches on YouTube.

Update: There’s a hilarious fake trailer for “Apaches Redux” and a music video that sets more joyful clips from “Apaches” to Roxy Music’s “Virginia Plain” but ends with The Scream That Should Never Be Heard.